Referendum to come on potential arts centre

Council voted to support the proposal in partnership with Kamloops Centre for the Arts Society and send it to referendum for permission from the public to borrow up to $45 million toward the project as early as next March

A performing arts centre proposal will go to referendum.

Kamloops city council voted on Tuesday to support the community-based performing arts centre proposal in partnership with Kamloops Centre for the Arts Society and send it to referendum for permission from the public to borrow as much as $45 million toward the project as early as next March.

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A date for the referendum, however, has yet to be determined.

Council voted unanimously eight to zero in support. Coun. Denis Walsh recused himself, due to property nearby. He owns Movie Mart and The Vic downtown.

Mayor Ken Christian said the project would have an overall community benefit and operate at a cost comparative to the Westsyde Pool.

“In my opinion, that is an investment we ought to seriously consider,” Christian said.

Other councillors were emphatic in their support, likening it to the next piece of the puzzle in the Tournament Capital branding and the right project at the right time.

In a meeting in which staff presented to council options to borrow funds for the project, Nelly Dever — the former city councillor and woman who spearheaded the PAC Not Yet campaign during the last proposal which failed by referendum in 2015 — was in council chambers.

Dever told council she is in favour of the new proposal.

“We strongly believe it is fundamentally a better business case,” Dever said, noting the issue five years ago was taxation on the backs of taxpayers.

“This time around, there’s a much better balance.”

However, Dever stressed the importance of factual communications to the public and contingency plans, should fundraising plans by the society fall short of its goal.

“What’s the backup plan there? We’d like to see that all addressed,” she said.

In addition to supporting the plans, council asked staff to bring back fulsome strategies for a communications plan.

Outside city hall after the decision, Kamloops Centre for the Arts Society director Kathy Humphreys called council’s decision “absolutely fantastic.”

“This has been such a long time coming,” she said.

Asked what will be done differently this time around, Humphreys said the project is community based, council is on board and positive buzz is occurring in the community around the new proposal.

“We’ve got off to a much better start,” she said.

A report prepared by city staff and made public last week recommended council support the centre.

The report noted an arts centre has been deemed a priority in myriad city plans for more than two decades, with demand only increasing as the city grows and infrastructure ages and rental availability dwindling.

It said challenges booking Sagebrush Theatre, Pavilion Theatre and Oasis Church —formerly Calvary Community Church — were made worse when Sagebrush closed for a good chunk of this year due to structural issues.

“In the four years since 
the 2015 referendum, meeting 
the demand for cultural facilities is more challenging than ever,” 
the report stated.

The society is hoping to raise, through grants and fundraising, between $25 million and $40 million, meaning the city would be on the hook for between $30 million and $45 million to build the proposed facility.

The city’s maximum monetary contribution is not expected to increase property taxes.

In the report, the city noted other projects on its books will be fully paid off in the coming years, with the city proposing to roll the facility into its debt load with no increase showing up on property tax bills.

“Compared to the previous timing of the proposal, the city is in a stronger financial position and is able to absorb the new debt into its existing financial plan without a direct impact to the rates,” the report stated.

The city could also reduce lending with up to $10 million from current and future reserves.

Operating costs of the facility would, however, be paid for via taxation. The society proposes to run the city-owned facility as close to break-even as possible.

To borrow money beyond five years, the city requires approval from the electorate. That can be done through counter-petition, referendum or both.

The earliest date for a referendum would be March 2020. The process is expected to cost the city between $100,000 and $120,000.

© Kamloops This Week


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